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Just where is the country - government or otherwise - going?

by Matt Harvey

ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR

When my wife recently returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., she brought home all kinds of neat baubles.

Most of them were freebies from the many agencies always trying to get good PR (read, more public funding).

As I sifted through the treasure, I came upon a cheap, little flashlight, which I managed to break in all of about 15 seconds by twisting part of it the wrong way (but that's another story).

Anyway, the flashlight apparently was part of the military's recruitment efforts, complete with "U.S. Army" and a toll-free number stamped on it.

Then came the shocker, the little detail that knocked me back about as far in my seat as a blast from an Army howitzer: The flashlight, according to the tag on the bottom of it, was made in China.

Next thing you know, we'll find out our military's weapons are made in China, too.

My wife told me about another trip she made to Washington, as a youth, and getting her bubble burst when she bought a small model of the Washington Monument and learned it had been made in Korea.

Does this prove we're too dependent on foreign-made goods?

Not definitively.

But it makes me awful uneasy. As does the recent spike in gasoline prices.

Depending on other countries may have helped foster this time of prosperity. There certainly is a place for many imports; most of us, including me, own them, and it's hard to tell what's really made in the U.S.A. anymore, anyway.

But I'm not sure that so much dependence is worth it in the long run.

Sooner or later, there will be another superpower.

Then, it will matter whether our country depends too much on Saudi Arabia for oil. Or on Pacific Rim countries for technology.

I guess it isn't time to move yet.

At least not until ... the soldiers are imports?

- - -

Here's another thought about the state of the country -- country music, that is.

If you like country cross-over, there's not much point in reading on.

Because chances are pretty good that you won't like to listen to Hank Williams III.

In their new duet, "Murder on Music Row," George Strait and Alan Jackson sing about how Hank Williams Sr. might not have a chance of making it in Nashville now because of all the slick, cross-over, pop sounds.

Hank's grandson, Hank Williams III, might not make it, either.

And that's too bad.

I hadn't listened to Hank Williams III until I heard one of his tracks on an area radio station, WDNE. I doubt if I'll hear it much more -- while it was great that the DJ put it on, the fact that he referred to it as "alternative country" doesn't bode well for it making the daily play list.

But that did send me out to look for Hank Williams III's music, which I finally found.

The CD has a tough, country edge to it that just isn't appreciated by the broad audience to which record labels are trying to reach, more or less acknowledged by the word "Outlaw" in the title of the CD.

Williams III sings about current country music industry taboos like drinking, crime and drugs on a few tracks, and profane language is sprinkled on a few, too, so this isn't a good bet for kids.

But the work, overall, is outstanding.

For one thing, he sounds a lot like Grandpa.

For another, the different sound of his music beats listening to all the bubble-gum lyrics, and sounds, that Nashville is churning out now.

Think of a honky-tonk down in Texas, with the eerie twang of steel guitars bouncing off the ceiling, walls and bottles of Lonestar and Shiner Bock, and that's Hank Williams III.

Think of a dance hall full of "honky tonk girls," plus cowboys and wannabe cowboys vying for their affections, and that's Hank Williams III.

Think of a distinct sound that jumps between plaintive and bouncy with a mix of guitars, steel guitars, fiddles and some raw vocal work, and that's Hank Williams III.

I have about as much use for some of the "country" music churned out now as I do for a U.S. Army recruiting flashlight made in China.

Give me the real deal.

Give me Hank Williams III.

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